Greener Than Recycling
Worm Composting, Fun for the whole family
Thank you to Kate Lieber of Green Thumb Garden Center on Woodward for writing this article. Also thanks to Galloway and Collens for being the annual sponsor of our Green News Section, where you can find the latest Ferndale environmentally-focused stories.
Magazines, newspapers, catalogs, credit card offers, coupon mailers, and all the other junk mail that’s delivered to our doors—no one wants to see all these paper products dumped into yet another overflowing landfill, but is curbside recycling really the best solution for our garbage problem? It takes energy to power recycling plants, and that energy comes from many non-renewable, dangerous, and environmentally detrimental sources including petroleum, nuclear power, and coal. Plus, the recycling process still leaves behind air and water-polluting byproducts. Can we do better?
It turns out that with worms, yes we can!
Worm composting (also known as vermicomposting) is just as easy to do as our current curbside recycling routine, but vermicomposing is powered by wriggly, legless invertebrates rather than by burning fossil fuels. Better yet, worm composting doesn’t require our garbage to travel via gasoline guzzling trucks to a recycling station miles and miles away. Families can vermicompost right in their own homes. Some people keep their worm composter on their deck or in their backyard like they would their curbside recycling bin, but because worm composting is clean and odor-free (hard to believe but true!), many keep their composter inside the house, even in the kitchen for easy access while cooking or cleaning up after a meal. And that’s because worm composting isn’t just for paper products. Worms eat all kinds of garbage: apple cores, potato peelings, egg shells, broccoli that’s been turning brown in the back of the fridge, food scraps of all kinds. Also grass clippings, leaves, weeds, ground covering—even our dryer lint. Worms are the ultimate in green culture.
But many people find that the greatest advantage of worm composting actually comes from the stuff that the worms leave behind. Vermicomposting creates two highly valuable and beneficial byproducts—compost soil and compost tea.
But it all begins with worms—a unique kind of worm, typically the species known as “red wrigglers.” The worms live in a specially made container that keeps them safe and secure inside. Food, paper, and yard waste goes in (a task that children of all ages find thrilling), and the worms go to work eating and digesting all that garbage. Their byproduct is known as worm castings (literally, worm feces—a fact that only adds to many kids’ excitement about vermicomposting.). Anyone who gardens or keeps potted plants at home already uses worm castings—they’re found in virtually all high-quality potting soils because they are a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. These potting soils can be very costly to purchase, but worms produce the real thing for free. No need to feel squeamish about working with worm castings—the castings are fully integrated into the bedding material in the composter, so the compost isn’t gross or smelly. It will look and feel just like a premium soil… because that’s exactly what it is!
The compost soil that comes from a worm composter can be mixed into garden or flower bed earth to ensure strong, healthy plant roots. The compost tea (or liquid compost) is used just like a liquid fertilizer to produce delicious, plentiful fruits and vegetables and giant, brilliantly colored flowers. Both types of compost are also natural pesticides.
Dog lovers find yet another use for vermicomposting—those amazing worms will even break down pet waste, though a separate composter must be designated for this task because compost that contains animal waste cannot be used to fertilize edible plants.
Worm composters can be found in many specialty garden centers. They come in various sizes, many as small as a tiny min-fridge. Look for models that are made in the USA instead of overseas where products may be made under conditions (child labor, worker safety, environmental impact) that most Americans find unacceptable. Another desirable feature is expandability—many worm composters allow you to start small and add or subtract additional drawers or chambers as your family’s waste output changes. Adequate drainage is a must (a problem many people run into with homemade worm composters) so it’s worth investing in a high-quality model, as many of these are still very inexpensive. A good garden center will explain the benefits of each model, walk you through the process of preparing your worm composter and demonstrate how to maintain it long term.
Worm composting is a fantastic educational tool for children and a whole lot of fun to boot. Feeding the worms (unlike walking the dog) never gets old for kids, and you’ll feel good about reducing your carbon footprint without spending a lot of time or money. The earth will thank you and so will your garden, flower beds, and potted plants!
***Green Thumb Garden Center maintains an active worm composter in the store so that customers can try their hand at feeding the worms and decide whether vermicomposting is for them.